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Kanerva teaches the best lesson

When the Suomen Paloliitto, the Football Association of Finland, announced back in 2016 that Markku Kanerva will be the national team’s coach for the next four years, many expounded it as an act of abdication: The Finns have already tried to qualify to the final stage of a major football tournament (either FIFA World Cup or European Championships) for no less than 30 times and had zero success.

Some of their campaigns were led by famous coaches, such as the late Danish Richard Moller Nielsen and Englishman Roy Hodgson, not to mention Mixu Paatelainen, one of the few Finnish coaches with international experience. What had Finland to expect from a former elementary school teacher, who after concentrating on football had been employed by the federation in no-stress jobs, as the Finland U21 team?

Kanerva had a minimal experience of top-class football. During the 2011-2015 period he has been called several times by the Federation to act as an interim coach and had a remarkable record as such, having lost only one of seven games in charge. But nobody estimated this statistics as a flying start to a rather unpromising coaching career.

After three years on board, Markku Kanerva is making history. In their 32nd effort, the Finns had succeeded at last: By capturing the 2nd place in qualifying Group J, they’ll be present in Euro 2020 final stage for the first time.

That’s for sure a Kanerva accomplishment: Finland has seldom be admired about their style of play and in their long football history only one real top class player has emerged: Jari Litmanen is still the national team’s record man in both caps and goals (137 and 32 respectively) and he’s going to be there for a long time. Having realized that he has no stars to count on, Kanerva focused on organized style of play, aggressiveness and defensive abnegation.

Despite scoring only 16 goals in 10 games (of the 20 qualified teams only Wales had a worst goalscoring ratio) Finland has conceded only 10 goals and kept a clean sheet in six games, both setting a record. They grabbed all points from games against Armenia and Liechtenstein, something their main opponents Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina didn’t manage) and had two fine games against group powerhouse Italy, although they lost both ties (2-0 away, 2-1 at home).

If we’d like to mention a star players, all lights focus on Teemu Pukki, who scored ten of team’s 16 goals. An absolute offensive weapon, the Norwich City FC centre forward is leading the current team’s roster in both caps (80) and goals (25), aspiring to break Litmanen’s record. He’ll have for sure some extra matches to do so next summer in Euro 2020 soil.

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